Good blueprint for at-risk youth – Opinion – Good blueprint for at-risk youth
November 15, 2008

No dramatic, breakthrough solution to youth violence is being proposed in a new report by two former provincial cabinet ministers who spent more than a year studying the problem. But their blueprint for action is all the stronger for that. Roy McMurtry and Alvin Curling have produced a realistic plan that represents Ontario’s best chance to address the violence that is increasingly snuffing out young lives.

McMurtry and Curling were called to their task in 2007 after 15-year-old Jordan Manners was shot to death at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute. The urgency of their work was tragically underlined just this week, when a Grade 11 student was knifed at the same school.

The five-volume report they’ve produced, including community perspectives and research papers, correctly diagnoses the causes of youth violence and offers a measured and practical way forward.

Poverty, racism, a flawed education system, lack of family support, inadequate mental health services, alienation and joblessness all underlie the gangs, guns and drugs prevalent in some troubled neighbourhoods, especially among young men. These interconnected roots took years to grow. “They will not yield to simple, quick-fix solutions,” McMurtry told reporters yesterday.

What he and Curling offer, instead, are 30 recommendations that serve as building blocks to a better society. Three are deemed a top priority deserving quick implementation:

Broadening youth mental health services, at a cost of about $200 million, to identify, treat and – it is hoped – short-circuit violent tendencies before they erupt in death and injury.

Increased steps to combat racism, including the collection of race-based data in policing and in other areas, to better identify the nature and extent of the discrimination that still taints Canadian society.

Creation of new “community hubs” where youth in troubled neighbourhoods would have a safe place to gather and to play, especially in the evening hours after school.

Other recommended changes include more efforts to ease poverty, hiring teachers and school administrators who better reflect the neighbourhoods they serve, more sports and arts programs, and more private-sector involvement in providing jobs and mentors for at-risk youth.

To drive this agenda forward, McMurtry and Curling suggest that Queen’s Park create a new cabinet committee on social inclusion and anti-racism, supported by a dedicated secretariat.

What’s envisioned is a careful, co-ordinated and comprehensive approach to youth violence, one that, if sustained and adequately funded, could make a real difference.

Curling and McMurtry formally presented their findings to Premier Dalton McGuinty yesterday morning and came away cheered by his response. McMurtry described the session as “very positive.”

That’s encouraging. Rearranging cabinet to better address this issue can be done quickly and at insignificant cost. And the three priority areas identified by McMurtry and Curling deserve quick action.

Ontarians should soon learn whether this latest report produces change or joins others on the same topic just gathering dust.

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